If you’re a baseball fan, or spend any significant amount of time around one, you know that baseball is a numbers game. Hits, home runs, RBIs, walks, strikeouts, OBP, ERA, WAR. From basic stats to advanced metrics, numbers allow us to analyze every part of a player’s game to a team’s season. Numbers can’t tell the whole story, however.
Record for most home runs in a single season – 73. Record for most career home runs – 762. Both are held by one of the infamous players of the modern era, Barry Bonds. Both come with an asterisk, as Bonds was a central figure in baseball’s 2000’s steroids scandal, and even faced charges for perjury and obstruction of justice (which were dropped and overturned, respectfully) stemming from the federal government’s investigation.
Based on his field performance alone, it’s not at all unreasonable to place Bonds in the top hitters of all time – his career WAR (wins above replacement, an advanced metric that determines the value of a player compared to a league-average replacement) is only second to that of Babe Ruth. Yet through his first four years of eligibility, Bonds has not been elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
I don’t disagree with my counterpart across the fold on this issue entirely. I cannot defend steroid use in professional sports; I’m quite adamantly against it. I think steroids tarnish the integrity of the game and the legacy of some of the game’s best hitters.
There are countless ‘what-ifs,’ especially around guys like Alex Rodriguez, one of the most disliked professional athletes in America. Rodriguez had more natural talent than any player of his generation, but his record has been tainted by an ugly cycle of steroid use accusations and public denials and lying. Some questioned if, after sitting out all of 2014, Rodriguez would ever play another game. He hit 33 HR for the Yankees in 151 games last year, and sits fourth on the career home run record list at 687, tucked between Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.
It’s impossible to know what some of the league’s greatest steroid users would have accomplished had they played cleanly. I could take steroids for a year, but my home run total would never leave the ground, and I probably couldn’t top 76 on my fastball. Bonds, Rodriguez, Sosa, McGwire, Pudge; the game’s most notorious juicers had immense talent in the game, and faced equally “amped-up” pitching time and again.
So why do the league’s best(*) deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame? Simple. The records stand. Officially, there are no asterisks on Bonds’ home run records. The World Series rings were not revoked, the batting titles still stand and no box scores have been amended. Ryan Braun and Rodriguez still play, and the home runs they hit tomorrow will be added to their totals from yesterday, even if there was some extra juice flowing through their veins when they happened.
What does a league look like that wants to amend history? Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) stripped Lance Armstrong of all seven of his Tour de France titles and banned him for life. He’s not in the official record books, and as far as anyone is concerned, he did not legitimately win seven Tour de France races.
I don’t advocate that baseball do this for a multitude of reasons, but if they are to deny a part of the game’s history, they ought to at least properly amend it. If the wins and stats and records are truly illegitimate, then make it so. Otherwise, Bonds, the Bash Brothers, and other baseball greats who were caught up in the steroid craze deserve a spot to be remembered and honored by the baseball fans of the future, even if fans know their numbers come with an invisible asterisk.